Monday, October 12, 2009

Watching the political winds on Columbus Day

Posted By on Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 8:13 AM

City Councilor Bill Peduto may never be mayor of Pittsburgh. He's not even running this year. But who needs it? The guy's already getting the perks: He was the first politician to march in Bloomfield's Columbus Day parade this weekend.

Peduto was placed there by recently departed Public Works head Guy Costa, who directed the parade's march along Liberty Avenue. There's good reason for Peduto's prominent placement: He's the city's only full-blooded Italian elected official. (Which seems kinda amazing, doesn't it? Aren't there any other Costas who want to run for something?) Still, one wonders: If Costa were still working for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, would he have put his boss behind Peduto, Ravenstahl's long-time nemesis?

In any event, Peduto basked in the attention. He was marching just a few yards behind his uncle, a longtime Knights of Columbus member who has headed up the parade for years. After he finished the parade, Peduto ranked his experience right up there with having a backstage Iron City with Donnie Iris.

For those of us who aren't Italian, such political vignettes are the chief attraction of the parade. While Ravenstahl tromped down Liberty alongside county executive Dan Onorato, city council President Doug Shields appeared with state Auditor General Jack Wagner. Wagner is likely to challenge Onorato in a gubernatorial race next year: Shields' presence was probably as close to a public endorsement as you can get -- at least until Wagner announces his candidacy. 

There was some mayoral politics evident as well. Franco "Dok" Harris, one of Ravenstahl's two challengers on the ballot next month, rode in a parade car driven by his campaign manager. In the front seat, Harris' father autographed white plastic footballs, which Harris the Younger tossed to onlookers. (These weren't exactly Bradshaw spirals: Dok Harris isn't much of an athlete, by his own admission, and he was working against a gusty wind. At least one football struck the side of a police cruiser.) Seated beside Harris was Al Vento, owner of a famed East Liberty pizzaria and founder of Franco's Italian Army.

Oddly, of the four men in that car, it was Vento who drew the most attention. I heard more than one onlooker shouting "Go, Al, go! Goooooo!" as Vento waved genially. And Vento's perch beside Dok Harris attracted some notice from city hall insiders too: "Vento LOVES Ravenstahl," one said to a companion as I eavesdropped shamelessly.

Kevin Acklin, the other independent challenging Ravenstahl in the race, was also on hand. Though not a participant in the parade, Acklin worked the crowd lined up along the route -- and he, too, traded on some starpower. Acklin's campaign spokesperson is retired WPXI reporter Andy Gastmeyer, who appeared to be more widely recognized than the candidate himself. 

Gastmeyer actually scored a bit of a coup at the parade's end: Costa, who was working a microphone to provide commentary near Del's restaurant, invited Gastmeyer to speak ... and Gastmeyer used the opportunity to make an impromptu speech on Acklin's behalf. ("I can't think of anybody more deserving of the job," Gastmeyer said. "I hope you'll think so too.")

All in all, though, one was hard-pressed to see much sign that anyone was even thinking about the mayoral race. The election is less than a month away, but along the entire parade route, I saw only a single campaign sign: a Harris for Mayor sign in the window of the Bloomfield Sandwich Shop. The only candidate who turned out in full force was Republican Tom Corbett, the state attorney general who is running for governor -- and whose balloons were clustered all along the parade route. 

And after the parade was over, I could see several pieces of campaign literature from both Acklin and Harris scattered on the sidewalk.

Nobody left behind any autographed footballs. 



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